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Assessing the Contraband Threat - From Alarm to Oblivion
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 02/04/2013

Alarm Should a betting slip be disregarded as an insignificant scrap of paper? Or is the same bit of contraband a small but nefarious indication of an inter-facility gambling, prostitution, and drug empire? Circumstance will tell which it is. Often, it lies somewhere between those two extremes.

Lessons of moderation are everywhere. They can be found in forms such as The Flight of Icarus to Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Though both stories ended tragically for the chief figure, the message is that the middle ground may be the best.

How do you generally assess a contraband find? Is the discovery of a cell phone no big deal, as it is the nature of the beast? Or is the cell phone immediately part of a huge enterprise. If the extremes in the continuum below represent cold apathy and burning concern, where would you plot your general opinion about the threat of the following items?
  • Spy watch
  • Extra milk in cell
  • Apple
  • Two dozen bags of coffee
  • Staff home phone numbers
  • An anonymous nude photo
  • Bylaws for a security threat group
  • Chewing gum
  • Duct tape

Oblivion<------------------->Realism<--------------------->Alarm
(Contraband Threat Continuum)

Let’s look a little closer at the three points on the contraband threat continuum:

Contraband Oblivion – This extreme will disregard any past finds that have proven dangerous. Forgetfulness is the operative word. In a cavalier manner, those mired in contraband oblivion see no real threat in an weapon that has been uncovered. Again, contraband is the nature of the beast and, to those who are firmly perched on this extreme, is no big deal.

The major pitfall of this end of the continuum lies in complacency. Diminished fear translates to diminished respect for possibilities. People get hurt when they underestimate.

Contraband alarm – The alarmist will find threat in everything – real and imagined.

The pitfalls in this mindset are:
  • Crippling fear – freezing the professional to inaction;
  • Running too far with the ball – a tunnel vision that places a laser-like focus on a possibility and blurring the day-to-day operations;
  • Disenfranchisement – colleagues begin to view the alarmist as the boy who cried wolf and give the person distance.

Realism - Often, the middle road is most prudent. The philosophical middle ground borrows elements of two opposing extremes and tempers it with patience, evidence gathering and common sense. In the state of realism, contraband incidents will not automatically be relegated to a code red status. Nor will contraband finds be dismissed in a cavalier manner.

Extremes from both sides of the continuum are best filtered through the following bits of realism:
  • Investigate before you proclaim something as a huge threat. Use conditional words before you make conclusions (could, may, might).
  • Calmly talk to others in the area about the history of the contrabandist.
  • Read files to understand the misconduct reports the offender has incurred.
  • Rethink minor contraband, nuisance contraband, and diversions.
  • Open your mind to the possibilities of what a find could be. It could be nothing or it could be the tip of the iceberg of something huge and illicit.

In the end, a single contraband find could mean nothing at all or it could represent the biggest find of the century. Odds have it, however, that it is likely to lie somewhere in between those extremes. It is up to each corrections professional to determine where he or she lies on the contraband threat continuum and to weigh the evidence and the circumstances.

These are the opinions of Joe Bouchard, a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections. These are not necessarily the opinions of the Department. The MDOC is not responsible for the content or accuracy

Visit the Joe Bouchard page


Other articles by Bouchard:


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